MCDONALD, Ohio (WKBN) – In what could possibly be a preview of the Division IV tournament final in Struthers, the McDonald Blue Devils out-raced the Wellsville Tigers for an exciting 89-80 victory on their home court Saturday night.
The Blue Devils remain perfect on the season with a 10-0 record while the Tigers drop to 8-2. Both teams were coming off wins from Friday night, giving the game even more of a tournament atmosphere with the back-to-back nights of play.
“First of all, I think these are two of the better teams in the area in Division IV,” Blue Devils coach Jeff Rasile remarked. “So we knew this was going to be a tough game. With both of us playing last night it makes it much more difficult, especially with our style. It was a war out there and fortunately for us we came out on the winning side.”
“We really played as a team tonight, we had six guys in double figures so it just goes to show that we share the ball very well,” Devils senior Dylan Portolese added. “Yeah, we’ll probably see them again in Struthers, just like last year. It was good to get the first one, to have the advantage of being the favorite.”
“I’m hoping, I’m hoping,” Tigers coach Bug Thompson said of the game possibly being a tournament preview. “It let me know where my team is at, because the last couple times we played them we battled them in the first half, and we gave up the second half. Tonight we came out and battled, we battled the whole game.”
Both teams ran the court from the tip-off to the final moments with both trading the lead early in the contest. When Justin Miller threw up a desperation three at the buzzer that connected to end the first quarter, the Tigers held a 25-24 lead.
But the Devils went on a 10-4 run to start the second period, giving them a 5-point, 34-29 lead early in the frame. They would be knotted at 36 when the Devils went on a 9-3 run to close the half and held a 45-39 lead at intermission.
“We missed some layups,” Thompson said. “We missed some layups early, a couple free throws and a couple bad turnovers in the first half. I was proud of how we battled back after that.”
Following an early basket by Michael Shope to start the second half, the Devils started to slowly inch their advantage as they built it up to 8-points at 61-53 with 2:42 remaining in the quarter when Evan Magill laid the ball in the hoop. The Tigers would close the deficit to just 4-points before the Devils’ Dylan Portolese and Caleb Emerson both knocked down two free throws to close the quarter with 67-61 lead.
The Tigers and Devils traded baskets throughout the first half of the final period until Braedon Poole connected on a three-pointer with 2:30 remaining to give the Devils a 10-point bulge at 80-70. The Tigers would attempt to send the Devils to the charity stripe in the final two minutes in hopes to close the deficit, but the Devils would connect on 9 of 10 free throws in the quarter to keep the Tigers at bay.
“We can’t turn the ball over down the stretch,” Portolese remarked as a key for his team. “We get up by ten and then throw the ball away and it could be a ten point game again. When we get up by ten we need to be able to take it to the next level and put it away.”
The loss overshadowed outstanding performances by both Jake Green and Justin Miller of the Tigers as they both netted 23 points to lead them. Michael Shope added and additional 13 points while Garrett Scott had 9. Miller also contributed a team-leading 8 rebounds and 9 assists.
“They’re great shooters. I think Green hit seven or eight three’s against them in the tournament last year. They are lights out shooters, I mean they played good, but I think he (Green) had a couple turnovers early and he didn’t let that get to him. I jumped on him for it (turnovers) and he responded.”
“Our style and the home court doesn’t hurt either,” Rasile said with a smile about what proved to be the difference in the game. “This was pretty loud here tonight. It was nice for a Saturday night game for fans. You look around and you see a lot of people who aren’t McDonald or Wellsville people, it was a good game to see.”
As Portolese mentioned, the Devils had six players scoring in double digits with Joe Ragazzine leading them with 21. Both Portolese and Braedon Poole knocked down 18 points with Evan Magill scoring 12 and Zach Rasile and Caleb Emerson scoring 10.
“This is what we do. All year we have been doing that. This is probably our most complete team as far as the five starters are concerned. We don’t have the depth that we had last year, but we had some kids step off the bench tonight and do some things like Caleb Emerson scoring 10 points.”